$1.5m fine over foreign worker deaths

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Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company (SSEC) Canada has been ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines after pleading guilty in October to three charges of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers.

Two of the charges were for failing to ensure the safety of both fatally injured men, scaffolder Ge Genbao and electrician Liu Hongliang, and one charge for failing to ensure the safety of two seriously injured workers. 

SSEC Canada Ltd, which is the Canadian-subsidiary of Chinese global oil company Sinopec, was given the maximum $500,000 fine for each charge, with $1.3 million of the total going to a provincial program aimed at teaching temporary foreign workers about their workplace safety rights. It was the largest penalty ever given in Alberta for a workplace safety violation.

"We're hoping to do good things with the creative sentencing," said Kevin Flaherty, with Alberta Workers Health Centre which will run the new program. "It enables us to do some good work with a bad situation."

The company was contracted with Canadian Natural Resources to build storage tanks on the Horizon site north of Fort McMurray. The charges stem from an accident that happened almost six years ago that killed two temporary foreign workers and injured two others when a storage tank collapsed, according to an agreed statement of facts filed in court in September. The Alberta health and safety investigation found the collapse occurred after the company decided to increase the pace of construction because it was behind schedule.

"I expect the court is right in its belief that a penalty like this will deter," Crown prosecutor Marshall Hopkins said.

In a written statement the company said it "sincerely regrets the deaths" and fully supports the proposal to use the fine to fund the program, which should be up and running later this year.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called the penalty "less than a drop in the bucket."

"This was an opportunity for the Alberta government to send a clear message to companies like Sinopec that if they want to do business in Canada, then they have to observe and follow our rules when it comes to workplace rights and health and safety," McGowan told the Winnipeg Free Press.

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